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Jack thought it was a dream and not a nightmare because he wasn’t making a jump. He was with his old A-team. They were all alive. Then he had to go down into the cave. It wasn’t a cave, but a tunnel. The Mujahedin dug deep into the bowels of the earth. He hated tunnels. Closed-in spaces felt like they squeezed and choked.
The cave-in hurt. It didn’t hurt at first, he guessed because he was unconscious. Then he did hurt — a lot. He knew his ribs were busted. He remembered doing that before somewhere. He felt like he was fighting for every breath and then, when he could breathe, there must have been water in the hole because he choked and gagged.
He tried to open his eyes, but couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t black, more of a dull red glow, like weak sun through closed eyelids. He knew they were trying to find him because he could hear people speaking English, American English, off a way in the distance. The echo in his head made it hard to tell how far away. He tried to yell, but all he could do was grunt and moan. It was hot in that tunnel, hot enough to make him sweat. Then it got real cold and he choked even more.
He shivered. He couldn’t stop shivering. The A-team would have fun with him shivering like a girl. He could feel something nibbling and tugging, first around the back of his head, under his scalp, near the base of his skull. Then he felt something under his left arm and on top of his left shoulder then under his right knee. Rats in the cave. He didn’t like the idea of being dinner for rats.
He must be pretty far-gone. Being dinner for the rats didn’t hurt. He wondered why the people he could hear talking didn’t keep the rats away from him and then he figured it out. The Mujahedin had him. They were feeding him to the rats. He could feel their little teeth, but it was like they were snagging and pulling on a winter coat he wore, not really pain at all. It hurt later, though. Nothing like his back hurt after the mortar attack. Then it hadn’t mattered how bad his back hurt. Mustafa was bleeding to death, and he had to carry him to the chopper no matter what.
Jack could barely hear through the ringing in his ears, but he knew they were talking about him.
“I thought you said he should be coming out of it.” Even through the ringing, the voice was familiar.
“He should be, but anesthesia and head injuries make for strange reactions. With the injuries, pneumonia, exposure, exhaustion… He should be dead.”
Jack heard a laugh he knew well. Shouldn’t the son-of-a-bitch at least fake some sympathy? He opened his eyes to see Captain Yan standing beside him, smiling down. The smile took years from Alvin’s face, making him look younger than Jack had ever seen him, except in the old news photos. Next to Yan was a man he didn’t recognize. The man was obviously a Fed. Next to him was the doctor. The Fed glowered down at him.
“Ah, Mr. McDonald, you have decided to wake from your nap. Are you feeling well enough to answer a few questions?” asked Captain Yan.
The doctor butted in and said, “I’m Dr. Isaac Ashkenazi. Can you understand me?” he asked as he shined a light into Jack’s eyes, putting him through the concussion drill. Jack nodded, which hurt, and followed instructions as the doc put him through a thorough exam.
The doctor said, “Toughness must run in your family. You are doing much better than you should be, given all that’s happened. I’ll let Captain Yan fill you in on what has happened, fifteen minutes tops. If you become stressed in any way, tired, in a greater degree of pain than you are in now, confused, press this button and I will end this visit. Repeat that back to me in your own words, please?”
Jack’s voice sounded terrible even to him. His tongue felt rusty and he had to think about each word, but he managed. The doc put the panic button in his hand, making certain he could squeeze hard enough to make it bong.
Captain Yan looked positively jolly as he said, “First news. Your sister is alive, conscious, and recovering very well, though still with gaps in her memory. They tell me she should be back to her brilliant old self soon. Ms. Schacter is also quite well. Ms. Schacter and your sister are here in San Francisco. As is Ms. Hong, who is quite impatiently waiting outside.”
Yan’s expression turned grim. “Do you know that Zelda and Jerome Dalrymple and Margaret Linden-Smith died in the explosion that destroyed your home?”
Jack again nodded, his head still hurting. He heard unfinished business and wanted to ask questions but did not trust himself to speak, not knowing what to ask and what not to ask.
The tall man with the beautifully capped teeth and the breath of someone who needed to floss broke in, “This has gone on quite long enough. I’m Deputy Director T. Wallace George, of the FBI and I’ll be taking over the interrogation now. I…” That was as far as he got.
Captain Yan said, “I’m sorry Mr. McDonald, I forgot to introduce the deputy director. He seems to have forgotten that this is not an interrogation. We are here simply to have you confirm Ms. Hong’s deposition, as Judge Lionel Jefferson made extremely clear to Theodore earlier today.”
Captain Yan double tapped his iPad and started. “Mr. McDonald, I do apologize. We will of course want you to verify all the details later, but if you would simply confirm and tell us of any materially important omissions now, that would be wonderful. A couple that looked remarkably like you and Ms. Schacter were hired by the renegade priestess of an outlawed sect of the well-respected Church of the Seven Sisters. These impostors publicly killed Donald O’Hare. You and Ms. Schacter, unaware we’d mistakenly issued warrants for your arrest, and fearing for you own lives, went into hiding. Ms. Schacter then returned to be by your sister’s side as Ms. Hong joined you in your attempt to travel to Lundy Canyon, the Church’s North American headquarters, to ask for answers. Correct so far?” he asked as he paused, looking up from his notes and making very direct eye contact.
Jack croaked, “Yes. Water?” He needed to process. Yan held a glass of ice water with a flexible straw. Jack made a production of drinking as he thought.
Yan was spinning and spinning hard. Jack wondered when the bill for the big spin would come due. He knew payment would be due. He nodded weakly, not having to act, and settled back in his bed, wondering whether he should just punch the button to put a temporary end to the questions.
The Captain skipped some pages, apparently skimming the deposition and only covering the highlights. Yan told of the trip into the Yosemite and the ambush and kidnapping, by the renegade and completely autonomous sect of the Church. Apparently there was an internal power struggle and, in a last ditch attempt to keep data from falling into the wrong hands, the head of the renegade sect burned their data vault.
This somehow set off a propane explosion that took down the building, injuring Jack again. Miraculously, Lee had been unharmed. When Yan got to the part about Lee trying desperately, even in the collapsed rubble, to untangle the cables that had somehow become wrapped around the neck of the priestess, Jack had to close his eyes and turn his head away. It sounded like the good guys had won the battle, but the war was on hold. There was no mention of the insider trading conspiracy or plot to suppress antiviral research. His head must have been bashed pretty good again. The answer was simple. If any of the conspiracy had come out the Feds would have to be involved.
Jack pushed the button and the doctor entered the room within seconds. Saying four words: “Rest please. Lee first,” required all the energy he had. The doctor led everyone out of the room and walked Lee back in. The last thing he remembered was Lee hugging him. In spite of everything, he knew he fell asleep with a big smile on his face.
WHEN JACK AWOKE, Lee sat in the chair next to him, asleep, her cheek resting on the hand without the IV. He craned his neck until he could see her breath fluffing the lock of hair that had fallen over her mouth. The pressure in his chest slowly let up. He eased his hand from under her cheek. Her shiny black hair glowed in the weak sunlight struggling through the sheer curtains. Her hair was shorter than he remembered.
The back of his hand looked like an old man’s: wrinkled, scarred, and bruised. There were new stitches in his arm. No one had mentioned those.
He felt Lee’s eyes on him. She smiled her lopsided smile. He always teased her, calling it her Elvis smile.
“Hey you, handsome man,” she said, duplicating the waking greeting he hadn’t heard in too long.
“Hey you, beautiful woman,” he responded, running his hand through her hair, wanting her though he could barely move. She grabbed his hand in both of hers and rubbed the back of it against her cheek, her skin as soft as anything he’d ever felt.
“I am so sorry,” he said. “I should have never got you involved…”
She stopped him by putting her lips on his. She pointed to her ear and the wall above his head, pushed herself up on her good leg and whispered into his ear.
“Bob says someone is listening. I’ll let you apologize more when you feel better.”
He fell asleep smiling again, this time the bad dreams a memory.
JACK HAD NEVER been good at the resting part of mending. He was a doer, a shit-stirring, cage-rattling kind of guy. He wanted to hurry the shoulder surgery. His new concierge physician told him to wait until he was well from the pneumonia and aftereffects of the concussion and the rest. He figured being in a hospital might make it harder for the Feds to mess with him. He wasn’t used to feeling helpless physically and it was terrible, and that wasn’t the worst of it.
The Feds tried an end run by revoking Lee’s visa. Lionel fixed it. One of the reporters from the Moon snuck into his room and offered him ten thousand dollars for the exclusive story of “Love Tryst along the Trail.” He could have used the ten thousand. All of his US assets were still frozen. The Feds were having a tough time undoing what they had done in seconds. His lawyers told him it would probably take a year to get clear title back on everything.
His ‘friends’ in public office were worse than the press. The congressman from his district, Michael ‘Mick’ O’Rourke, managed to talk his way past the doctor. The nurse on duty had voted for him. The nurse almost forgot to write down Jack’s vitals. At least she checked them. Mick invited the nurse to his hotel later that evening for input into health care issues from someone in the field.
“Well, Jack, how are you today?” O’Rourke asked, never taking his eyes off the nurse’s butt as she bent over to adjust the bed. Without waiting for Jack to answer he started his sales pitch.
“You know the Church of the Seven Sisters has been one of the strongest advocates for family values. I was shocked to hear how this renegade had gone crazy and done so much damage. My staff and I have done everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Of course it is very hard to write legislation that would prevent something like this from happening in the future without endangering religious freedoms, but…”
As he droned on, Jack thought about the man’s nickname. “Mick the Prick.” If you wanted to get anything done an acceptable bribe was $50K to his PAC and the services of a two thousand-dollar-a-night call girl. Many of the call girls would only see him once. He had a tendency to be rough. And the way he used them, he’d probably be just as happy with a boy.
Eventually Mick left. The nurse was unfortunately unable to make it to the congressman’s room. She was even more attentive after O’Rourke left, saying, “It must be so exciting to be on a first name basis with the congressman.”
JACK WAS USED TO having reserves of energy. Now he woke up at six so the night nurse could see how he slept, check vital signs, help him pee and hand him off to the day nurse. He’d breakfast and fall asleep surfing financial news. He’d wake up again around ten, chat with the doc and fight to stay awake until lunch. After lunch, a nap for an hour or two. By the end of the third day he had trouble sleeping. This was a good sign and they talked about letting him go home. This presented him with an interesting problem. He didn’t have one, a home that is.
Where his home had been was now a hole in the ground with memories floating in muddy water. Jack knew this because he’d watched the video his insurance agent made. His homeowner’s insurance didn’t cover terrorist acts. The insurance investigator was sure it was a bomb after he found part of the timer and wiring harness stuck in the big oak tree a hundred yards from Jack’s property line.
This brought the FBI back in and muddied the waters even more. So Lee and Jack bought an apartment in the City. On the third day there, after his morning stint with the physical therapist, Meghan and Dvora came to visit.
Jack had talked to Dvora on the phone, keeping his voice neutral. The last time they talked, Dvora handed the phone over to Meghan. Her voice was the same, yet it was like talking to a different person. He always had trouble keeping up with Meghan, as she flitted from subject to subject, making intuitive leaps and waiting patiently for him to catch up. During this phone conversation he had to bite his tongue to keep from finishing her sentences.
Dvora pushed Meghan’s wheelchair. A quilt covered his sister’s legs, poking up like sticks, too skinny from lack of use. Her head was cocked to the left and enough of the red hair had grown back so it might need brushing soon. It was a darker shade of red than it had been before they’d shaved it and looked like it was growing out straighter. They’d set her nose perfectly. Her eyes were the same.
They say eyes are windows to the soul. Her eyes had the loving wisdom of Albert Einstein combined with the shyness of an eleven-year-old girl and the fire of a six-year-old whose parents had never scolded because she asked, “Why?”
They cuddled and blubbered, him up on the bed and she in the wheelchair, before she said, “Well, Jackson, it sounds like I slept through quite an….” she paused looking down and worried at the quilt, before she looked up saying, “…adventure. Damn it, I hate having to reach for words.”
Meghan smiled, the grin he had known since she was three, and said, “Well, at least now I won’t have to apologize for saying the wrong thing as often.” While she sat there and smiled they connected like they had from the time she was born, some primeval connection reborn from the effects of nuclear fire on the gene pool. Or, it was magic. He didn’t care. The connection was there and strong and the same. She might have trouble talking, but her mind was the same. His sister was back.
Dvora watched them, the old jealousy surfacing again, as she hovered just behind Meghan’s shoulder. Dvora and Meghan had moved back into their place, Meghan insisting.
“I talked to your Lee,” Meghan said. “I approve. You’ve finally met one smarter than you. When she talks about you, her eyes go…soft and she sighs a lot. Unless…unless someone is stupid enough to say something bad about you, then her…jaw gets firm and her…eyes fill with fire. Don’t screw it up. Keep this one Jackson,” was the last thing she said before Dvora pushed her out of the room.
Keep this one, Jackson was the last thing Jack thought to himself before he fell asleep. Before that he thought about Meghan helping him work on the brakes on their parent’s car before he left. She handed him wrenches and asked questions about hydraulics and backup systems on brakes and filed the answers away in that brain of hers. The next last thing he thought about was telling her before he left that if Pops touched her she was supposed to call his CO and he would come back and take care of things.
He had already beaten Pops senseless once after he tried to whip Meghan with a belt. Another thing he thought about before he fell asleep was the grim look on his sister’s face when she said. “Don’t worry about him, Jack. He won’t hurt me anymore.”
At the time he thought it was a brilliant child’s bravado. But, he wasn’t so sure when the insurance investigator said the car’s brakes failed. Jack chose not to think about it. Then when she started having nightmares, he took her to the shrink. The shrink said that the son-of-bitch had molested Meghan. Jack thought he should have killed the son-of-bitch himself, and would have if he had been around. And, he thought his little sister had always been kind of scary.
THE PLACE LEE found for them was in the Marina district only two blocks from Bob and Alice’s place. This was a good thing because they had become a foursome. Bob and he attended physical therapy together. The trip up the side of the mountain in Lundy Canyon had been too much for what was left of Bob’s good knee. Alice carried him out in a fireman’s carry. Alice and Bob flew to Sweden and the doctors pulled out cartilage from the good knee. Then they force fed it clean, young, oxygenated blood, grew the tissue up big and strong, and put it back into both knees.
Bob and Alice stopped in Belize on the way back and got married. Alice was still peeling with sunburn and Bob was as black as Jack had ever seen him. Alice made Bob practice his smile. His smile looked like white lights shining out of a tunnel. Bob sat in the oversized ugly brown recliner Lee had yelled at Jack for buying as they drove past the furniture closeout sale.
Bob’s lead tech finished sweeping the room and waved as she headed out the door. Bob turned on the white noise generator, checked to make sure the bone colored honeycomb shades were down and asked, “What are we going to do about the bad guys?”
It was a good question. Jack still didn’t have a good answer. They’d watched the markets as closely as markets could be watched. The bad guys weren’t playing the game anymore. They had taken all the money they could find from the Church, but the group knew there wasn’t any way they had gotten it all. The cabal didn’t know if they’d scared the Church into permanently giving up the game or just made them keep their heads down for a while.
After a long and completely unproductive silence Lee said, “Wasn’t our goal to stop them? If that’s the case we achieved success, didn’t we?”
Alice asked, “And what do we do with the money we took from them?”
The phone rang. The doorman wondered if a Captain Yan and a Sergeant Washington could come up for a visit.
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